Monday, July 22, 2013

For October: Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea

Pasadena's Rights Readers have chosen Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea for October, 
Nineteen-year-old Nayeli works at a taco shop in her Mexican village and dreams about her father, who journeyed to the US to find work. Recently, it has dawned on her that he isn't the only man who has left town. In fact, there are almost no men in the village--they've all gone north. While watching The Magnificent Seven,Nayeli decides to go north herself and recruit seven men--her own "Siete Magníficos"--to repopulate her hometown and protect it from the bandidos who plan on taking it over.  
Filled with unforgettable characters and prose as radiant as the Sinaloan sun, INTO THE BEAUTIFUL NORTH is the story of an irresistible young woman's quest to find herself on both sides of the fence.

Luis Alberto Urrea, 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist for nonfiction and member of the Latino Literature Hall of Fame, is a prolific and acclaimed writer who uses his dual-culture life experiences to explore greater themes of love, loss and triumph.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Rights Rhythm: Listen to Roma Rights!

Yesterday I posted about Amnesty International's concerns regarding discrimination against the Roma in the European Union as part of our larger discussion of Oksana Marafioti's memoir American Gypsy. It was just coincidence that we chose this book just as AI activists throughout Europe were coming up with creative ways to get the word out, but we always appreciate artful campaigns here at Rights Readers. So check out this video of Austrians hosting some gypsy street dancing and this one of a Belgian flash mob forced eviction drama in front of the European Parliament.

CD Listen to Roma rights
Best of all, Amnesty's Dutch activists have assembled a CD of Roma musicians from throughout Europe, Listen to Roma Rights, to support the campaign. The YouTube playlist above gives you some idea of the variety of music and also allows the musicians to talk about their own concerns for the Roma community. The mp3s are available on iTunes for download, however, if you think a physical CD sounds like a great gift for a musician-activist in your life, you may have to wait. The CD was released in May of this year, so perhaps some copies will arrive on a slow boat to the Amnesty USA Store later this year.

But how about something Russian to close out our discussion of our book about Russian immigrants? Did you know Yul Brynner also claimed Russian and Roma heritage? Enjoy!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Human Rights Here, Roma Rights Now

Here at Rights Readers we aim to use personal memoirs like Oksana Marafioti's American Gypsy to illuminate larger issues relating to human rights. While the kinds of discrimination young Oksana experienced were relatively mild, depressingly, there are far too many Amnesty International videos and reports on the subject of serious human rights violations against the Roma to choose from. The video above was made to accompany the release of a report last April, Human Rights Here, Roma Rights Now: A Wake-up Call to the European Union. The problem:
  • Between 10 and 12 million Roma live in Europe – half of them in EU member states.
  • Eight out of 10 Roma households in the EU are at risk of poverty. 
  • In 2012 11,803 evictions of Roma were carried out in France alone.
  • Over the past six years, there has been an average of one eviction of Roma every other day in Italy.
  • In Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Bulgaria, between January 2008 and July 2012, there have been more than 120 serious violent attacks against Romani people and their property, including shootings, stabbings and Molotov cocktails.
An even more recent report Pushed to the Margins: Five Stories of Roma Forced Evictions in Romania details how Roma are being denied their right to adequate housing and subjected to continuing poverty, insecurity and social exclusion as a result.  (Don't be afraid to click on these reports! They aren't that dry-- there are pictures!) You can help out by signing this Amnesty petition to the Prime Minister of Romania, Victor Ponta, asking him to use his power to end forced evictions.

More videos, reports and press releases at and AI-UK. It's also worth just scanning the New York Times article tagged "Romani People" to see how common incidents of discrimination are.

In tomorrow's post we'll rock to the Romani beat!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Rights Reel: Korkoro

In my last post, Roma 101, I offered some resources for learning about the history and culture of the Roma people to enhance our discussion of Oksana Marafioti's American Gypsy: A Memoir. To shift the focus to human rights-relevant themes in that history, it's important to point out the Roma WWII experience. Under the Nazi regime, German authorities subjected Roma to arbitrary internment, forced labor, and mass murder.  Please visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum site or the Wikipedia page for Porajmos (The Romani term for the Holocaust) to learn more.

Now I know browsing those pages is not how anyone wants to spend their weekend, so what if there was a way to learn about this historical event and in a more personal, relatable way? Sort of a Schindler's List with gypsies? In fact, the French movie by Romani director Tony Gatlif is just the ticket. Inspired by the true life of a Romani who escaped the Nazis with help from French villagers, the film has the same stunning cinematography and rich musical score as Gatlif's Latcho Drom (one of my all time favorite films). You can stream Korkoro here via Amazon or on Netflix. Then check out the film's Wikipedia page to learn the real life basis for the fictional story.

Another film I have not seen but which looks worth seeking out to learn more about the Roma is A People Uncounted. Check out the trailer below:

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Roma 101


This month's book, American Gypsy: A Memoir by Oksana Marafioti, was an enjoyable introduction to Roma culture seen through the eyes of a young Russian immigrant. I wouldn't have minded a bit more substance on the history of the Roma people and their present day concerns, but discovering supplemental materials along those lines is just what this blog is for!

So if the history of the Roma didn't fly by fast enough for you in the book, try the fun Roma 101 video above and visit the Open Society Foundations site to learn more. For another American Roma story don't miss this story about late 19th century Hungarian immigrants.

It's hard to read a book like American Gypsy about growing up in a family of musicians and not want a soundtrack to go with it. From WGBH's Sound and Spirit, here is a program combining some historical and cultural insight into the Roma while showcasing the wide range of gypsy music:

I know some of our Loyal Readers will want to know more about the Romani language. Here are your handy links to Wikipedia and to satisfy your curiosity!

I'll have some film suggestions and Amnesty perspective in the next couple of days.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Our July Author: Oksana Marafioti and American Gypsy

This month we are reading Oksana Marafioti's American Gypsy about growing up Roma in Russia and Los Angeles. You can learn more about this young memoirist at her website, which includes a list of interviews and articles she has written. She looks like a fun Facebook follow, if you want to learn more about Romani culture, as well.  Here are some links I found useful:

The author stopped by our favorite bookstore, Vroman's, a little while ago and if you missed it you can experience her booktalk in the video above (also Part 2 and Part 3) even if the audio is a bit dodgy. She stopped by NPR's Talk of the Nation last summer to discuss the book and chat with Romani callers. And finally, I hadn't heard of the reality show My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding before, but the author offers her opinion of the show in this Slate article.

More links on Roma culture and Amnesty International's concerns about the human rights of Romani people in the European Union later this week!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Coming Soon! Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers.

We are pleased to announce two opportunities to discuss Katherine Boo's award-winning book, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, death, and hope in a Mumbai undercity. Ye Olde Pasadena group has selected this book for it's usual September 15, 6:30pm meeting at Vroman's Bookstore. Loyal Reader Cheri Dellelo is launching a brand new Rights Readers in Cleveland on August 4 at 6:30pm at Mac's Backs. Let your friends in the area know!

For enticement to read the book, watch the video above.  Katherine Boo is a staff writer at The New Yorker and a former reporter and editor for The Washington Post. Her reporting has been awarded a Pulitzer Prize, a MacArthur “Genius” grant, and a National Magazine Award for Feature Writing. For the last decade, she has divided her time between the United States and India. This is her first book.  Here are a couple of enthusiastic endorsements from other authors we have read:

“There is a lot to like about this book: the prodigious research that it is built on, distilled so expertly that we hardly notice how much we are being taught; the graceful and vivid prose that never calls attention to itself; and above all, the true and moving renderings of the people of the Mumbai slum called Annawadi. Garbage pickers and petty thieves, victims of gruesome injustice—Ms. Boo draws us into their lives, and they do not let us go. This is a superb book.”

—Tracy Kidder, author of Mountains Beyond Mountains and Strength in What Remains

“I couldn’t put Behind the Beautiful Forevers down even when I wanted to—when the misery, abuse and filth that Boo so elegantly and understatedly describes became almost overwhelming. Her book, situated in a slum on the edge of Mumbai’s international airport, is one of the most powerful indictments of economic inequality I’ve ever read. If Bollywood ever decides to do its own version of The Wire, this would be it.”

—Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dime

Monday, July 15, 2013

Introducing Oksana Marafioti

Have you started our July discussion book, American Gypsy: A Memoir? Here's a brief video introduction from the author, Oksana Marafioti, to her story about growing up with her Roma and Armenian family in Russia and Los Angeles. It's light summer reading so you can easily get this one done for the discussion at Vroman's this Sunday!
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